Skip to main content

First Thoughts

Why Talk about What Happened at First Baptist?

The Hard Years

The years of 2018-2021 were difficult years of transition at First Baptist. Those years were painful for everyone at our church. I call them The Hard Years. In God’s great kindness, those years are now over, and our church is in a remarkable season of growth, health, and happiness.

In August, I’ll release a podcast called What Happened at First Baptist. That podcast tells the story of the challenges our church confronted during the hard years and all the good things God did to restore a dying church.

Hard stories are difficult to share, particularly when the story is yours. Why in the world would I talk about a season of difficulty now that happy days are here again?

There is a very good reason why I want to tell this story and why I want to tell it now. But before I explain it, let me be clear about what I am not doing.

Bad Reasons to Tell a Hard Story

All sorts of bad reasons exist for sharing a hard story. Consider a few.

Settling Scores

We have all been in the room when someone shares a hard story with an ax to grind. They endured painful mistreatment and have never been able to let the problem go. When they open their mouths to speak, all that comes out is cursing, bitterness, and retribution.

God has a better plan for that kind of problem, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).

As I pastored First Baptist through the hard years, I made a commitment never to say anything bad about anyone. That is a commitment I have never broken. I am not going to start now. If you listen to this podcast to discover dirt on someone, you will be disappointed.


Sometimes people tell hard stories, not to tear down others but to build up themselves. All of us have fought back the gag reflex listening to someone who is always the hero of their own hard times. The truth, however, is more likely stated by Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

The hero of the story I am going to tell is not myself. The Kingdom of God only has room for one Hero, and that is Jesus himself. One of the things that makes him so wonderful is that he could use a weak, bumbling, foolish person of no account like me. The only person in the podcast that I am critical of is me. If you listen to this podcast to hear the musings of an expert, you will be disappointed.

Open Old Wounds

Still, another bad reason to tell a hard story is because we just can’t let it go. We all know the haters and the self-promoters. We also know the broken people who just can’t move on. They live lives trapped in the past, unable to trust the work of God in their seasons of difficulty. Such a motivation is tragic, painful, and unhelpful.

Good Reasons to Tell a Hard Story

Though there are many negative reasons to tell a hard story, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good reasons. In fact, in the Bible, God gives us a crucial reason to reflect upon and share our stories of pain. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.”

This passage has an assumption, a promise, and a responsibility.

The assumption of the passage is that we are going to experience trouble. Paul assumes that in this sinful world, we will experience buckets of affliction. The promise of the passage is that in our affliction, we will experience the tender care and merciful comfort of God himself. It is a remarkable reality in God’s world that life’s afflictions never come without God’s affection.

The responsibility of the passage is that when we receive the comfort of God in the midst of our trials, we must turn and share the comfort we have received with people in other difficulties. Everyone who has experienced comfort in pain has a burden to share that comfort with others in their own trials.

Some Hard Stories Simply Must Be Told

In What Happened at First Baptist, I will be honest about the painful challenges our congregation experienced in the revitalization of our church. There’s no reason to share this story without being candid about the pain. But the story doesn’t end with tribulation.

This is a story that needs to be told because, in a season of overwhelming difficulty, our whole church experienced the profound comfort and miraculous mercy of God himself. In that experience, I learned things that I didn’t know before. I think those lessons can help you. I firmly believe that one of the reasons God allowed such pain is to create the opportunity to share the profound comfort that could only come from him.

I am excited to tell this story because I want to encourage you that God’s power can overcome any obstacle, can strengthen any weakness, and will ensure that his church will grow in the face of any challenge.

I hope you will let me tell you this story and be one vehicle of God’s comfort as you face your own challenges in ministry.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

Share this

Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.